For some sports fans, the idea of sitting and watching cars go round any kind of circuit, be it a NASCAR, F1 or rally circuit, all seems like too much. The races can appear long and repetitive, but what people need to try and understand at least is that these races are the length that they are for good reason.
NASCAR Races must be 120 laps or 300 Miles to be considered official. However, this gives a lot of leeway. the longest NASCAR Race is the 600 miles, 400 lap Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the shortest is at Bristol Speedway with 250 laps of its just over a half mile track making 133.25 miles on dirt.
In today’s article, we’re taking a closer look at the length of NASCAR races, how each race is structured and the reasons behind it all. Hopefully if you’ve ever thought that a NASCAR race was too long, you might have more understanding by the end of this piece.
What is the Traditional Length of a NASCAR Race
While there are some differences in the total number of miles, the traditional NASCAR race is about 3 hours long on average, covering 200-250 laps of the circuit. This is often the source of people’s ire when it comes to the length of NASCAR races, because 200 laps sounds astronomical.
It’s crucial to remember, however, that when compared to the intricate circuits of the likes of Formula 1, NASCAR laps are much shorter, very often a minute or less. Therefore, more laps are needed to make the race actually mean something.
For a NASCAR race to be even declared official, it needs to cover at least 120 laps or 300 miles depending on the location. No race with fewer laps or miles would be considered a “proper” and recognized NASCAR race.
The 200 or more laps are invariably divided into stages, typically 3 or 4 stages depending on which race one is attending. The 4-stage race is saved for the longest events like the Coca-Cola 600.
Winners in each stage can receive bonus points that go towards their overall NASCAR championship status. The first 2 stages of the race will cover at least 120 laps to make the race “official.” The practice of docking laps from drivers is the standard form of penalty used against those who commit infractions during the race.
Those laps then have to be made up, which in such a tight race with so many competitors can prove to be a big, though exciting, problem.
500-Mile or Greater NASCAR Races
NASCAR is perhaps best known for its 500-mile and above races, of which there are only 3. These are considered three of the crown jewel events, and include:
- Daytona 500 – at Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL
- Coca-Cola 600 – at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, NC
- Southern 500 – at Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC
As the names suggest, both the Daytona and Southern 500 races are 500 miles in length, and the longest NASCAR race is the Coca-Cola 600. While the Coca-Cola 500 is the longest, it’s the Daytona 500 that has pride of place as the real prime jewel in these 3 races.
How Long is the Daytona 500 NASCAR Race?
The Daytona 500 features 200 laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval course. The first and second stages each have 65 laps, while the final stage has 70 laps. While it is currently regarded as the most prestigious race in the NASCAR Cup Series, it’s actually not the oldest. The first race was held in 1959, a whole 9 years after the earliest 500-mile race, the Southern 500 which dates back to 1950.
The Daytona 500 is also noted for having the largest prize purse. In 2021, the total prize money was $23.6 million, of which the winners alone received between $1.5 and $2 million each. Specifics are not usually shared, but those are the best expert guesses based on the known figure of the total purse size, by far the largest of any other race in the NASCAR Cup Series.
NASCAR Legend Richard Petty holds the most wins at the Daytona 500, with 7 in total. The most manufacturer wins are held by Chevrolet, with 24 total wins.
How Long is the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race?
The Coca-Cola 600 — originally known as the World 600 — is the longest race not just in total distance, but also in number of laps. Because the Charlotte Motor Speedway track is only 1.5 miles in length, it means that to achieve the distance of 600 miles, the drivers have to complete 400 laps. The Coca-Cola 600 is divided into 4 stages, with each one having an equal 100 laps.
Besides being uniquely long, the Coca-Cola 600 is also noted for the changing driving conditions that occur. It starts in the early evening on the Sunday or Memorial Day Weekend at 6:20pm. At that time, the sun is still shining.
By the time a third of the race has passed, the light changes to dusk, and then the final third happens under the stadium lights. These changing light conditions present unique challenges to the drivers. This race also has an interesting connection with the Indy 500.
The driver with the most wins is Darrell Waltip (5 wins), and the manufacturer with the most wins is Chevrolet (25 wins).
How Long is the Indy 500 NASCAR Race?
Readers might wonder why we haven’t gotten to the Indianapolis 500 yet, but that’s actually because the Indy 500 is not a NASCAR race, but rather an IndyCar race. Still, it’s an older race going all the way back to 1911, and also includes 200 laps of the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It does also have a connection with NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 because it happens on the same day, but earlier on. There are even some drivers who do something called “Double Duty” where they race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 races. We have a full article on Double duty here
However there are NASACAR races run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard 400 is run there each year.
Shortest NASCAR Races
Within the NASCAR Cup Series, the shortest races are at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, and Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. These two tracks have a total lap length of just 0.526 and 0.533 miles respectively.
Even with a 200-lap race, it means the total only comes to just over 100 miles. The more typical 250-255 laps that these races entail still puts them at around 134-135 miles.
Compared to the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, then, these races are comparatively short, but absolutely do not lack the excitement. The Bristol Motor Speedway is known for its infamously steep 26- to 30-degree banking on the turns, and even up to 10-degree banking on the straight sections.
Short it may be, but it takes a skilled driver to maintain composure across 250 or more laps with that kind of banking to contend with.
The Martinsville Speedway only has a maximum of 12 degrees of banking on the turns, while the straight sections are completely flat. That means that drivers have to have impeccably smooth acceleration on every corner in order to guarantee they can stay ahead on the straight sections. Once again, maintaining that over 250+ laps is very challenging.
NASCAR races can be anything from 130 miles long to 600 miles long depending on the track. So the longest is the coca cola 600 and the shortest, usually, are the Bristol races.
However the official understanding is a race has to be over 120 laps or 300 miles to be part of the season.